REVIEW #47 | “Graceling” by Kristina Cashore

Title: “Graceling”

Author: Kristina Cashore

Pages (hardcover): 471

Original Publishing Date: 1 October 2008

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

“Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug. 

“She never expects to fall in love with beautiful Prince Po. 

“She never expects to learn the truth behind her Grace—or the terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

“With elegant, evocative prose and a cast of unforgettable characters, debut author Kristin Cashore creates a mesmerizing world, a death-defying adventure, and a heart-racing romance that will consume you, hold you captive, and leave you wanting more.”

Trigger/Content warnings for the novel:

  • gore
  • blood
  • violence
  • character death
  • internalized ableism

Representation in the novel:

  • N/A

⭐⭐ .5
2.5/5 stars

I really, really wanted to like this. I remember reading it when I was younger, and my friend really enjoys it, too, but. This second reading kind of killed it for me, sadly. It was mostly due to Katsa, the protagonist, and the writing overall (also, the “nice” touch of ableism at the end).

Graceling follows Katsa, a teen girl who is a Graceling, a person who has a specific supernatural skill. It could be something like swimming or cooking, or more supernatural, like mind control. Katsa, however, has the Grace of killing, and her uncle, a king, uses her to gain power. She then has to pair up with another Graceling, Po, in order to figure out a recent kidnapping.

As far as characters go, I was not all that impressed. The side and minor characters were pretty forgettable (though Katsa’s cousin Raffin was pretty fun), and I was not a fan of how Katsa sees Po throughout the novel. Multiple times throughout the novel, there seems to be this “Oh, look how exotic he is” feel, and that made me uncomfortable. His characterization by the end of the novel fell flat for me, and I felt like it was not as explored as it could have been.

When it comes to Katsa, I am a bit conflicted. When Graceling was published, it was around the time the warrior/girl with a sword protagonists became popular. I know that. But I am still annoyed that Katsa is so anti-feminine. I simply do not enjoy warrior girl main characters when they constantly speak down on femininity. However, I will give her kudos for being firm in her decision of not marrying or having children. I can totally understand that. But outside of her Grace and the fact that she is not feminine, the reader never really finds anything else out about her. Her inner dilemmas are mostly connected to the Grace and whether or not she is a monster. This could have been done well, but I got tired of it quickly. She just feels like a flat character to me, and while I did not actively root against or hate her, I was not supporting or liking her either.

I also have issues with the plot and pacing. The first half of the novel felt so slow to me. Usually, I do not have an issue with slower plots, mostly because they more often than not focus on the characters themselves, and that makes it interesting. But I felt like I was just getting info dump after info dump with interactions between characters in the middle, where nothing was really shown. Even after the action started picking up, I felt like I was waiting for something more.

Along with that, it all seemed anticlimatic. The reader experiences all these tense scenes as Po and Katsa try to figure out what to do, but the ending of the all the plot lines, including the main one, are just…there. There was all that tension and for little payoff. When the antagonist was apprehended, I assumed there was going to be something more than the two or three sentences that made up the resolution. Same thing with what happens to other certain characters at the end. It just feels like some points were plopped in there just to be something to read, and so it feels drab and basic. I wanted more out of it.

There was a side plot near the end that really threw me for a loop. I will not give out precise details, but a character becomes disabled, and the way it is handled is…not good. I am not disabled, just an FYI, but there was a lot of ableism that accompanied this plot twist. And yup. It was, essentially, a plot twist, which…Why? Not only is this idea not explored further outside of the internalized ableism of the disabled character and the ableism of the other character that finds out, but it just seems like a final “hurdle” that has to be overcome. I was not a fan of this plot point at all.

While I liked the idea of Graces/Gracelings, I was not a fan of Katsa, and most of the other characters fell flat. On top of that, the sideplots that appeared throughout the novel felt unexplored, forced, and/or rushed. Overall, I am a bit sad, especially since I remember loving this book when I was younger.

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